The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science

Author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
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by Arainach   2020-05-04
Kenji is wonderful. The Food Lab (https://www.amazon.com/Food-Lab-Cooking-Through-Science/dp/0...) is still the first cookbook I turn to when investigating a recipe I haven't made before. His blog on Serious Eats has been amazing through the years - his advice on sous vide in particular is as good as anyone I've found, but all of his advice is solid.

If you're ever in the Bay Area, his Wursthall restaraunt is well worth a visit. I don't live there but I make it a point to visit at least once a year when travelling.

by kitzdeathrow   2019-11-17

I would highly encourage you to check out r/mealprepsunday. There are A TON of great recipes you can make to plan out your meals for the week. One way that I've found to get my diet in check is to really take initiative/agency over planning my meals. If I've nothing planned for dinner at the end of the work day, I'm for more likely to just grab fast food on the way home. But, if I've got a a couple pound of chicken in the fridge I need to use or it will go bad, I'm much more likely to make up some grilled chicken fajitas or something in that vein. Even if you're not into meal prepping, at least planning out what you'll make/eat on each day for the next week, making a shopping list, and implementing it is very rewarding in my experience.

I would also SUPER ABSOLUTELY OH MY GOD recommend The Food Lab cook book. You said in your edits that you're comfortable cooking, which is great! I thought I knew my way around the kitchen, but when I got the book it really opened my eyes to a variety of different cooking techniques and the science behind them. I absolutely love it.

by LeadRobot   2019-11-17

If you want basically a textbook on cooking, I got a lot out of The Food Lab from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. It'll tell you a lot about why we do things the way we do, and how to do them "optimally."

I also usually recommend The Flavour Bible to people who are looking to move into tweaking or creating their own recipes, it's a really good source of information for what sorts of flavours and ingredients work together.

by May0naise   2019-11-17

I’d also like to add to check out Binging with Babish’s “Basics with Babish” series.

Babish and Food wishes are great resources to learn to cook. Along with books like The Food Lab and Salt Fat Acid Heat. Both books have the goal of teaching you methods of cooking so you don’t rely on recipes.

by coughcough   2019-11-17

Kenji's method is what I use. If you haven't checked it out, his book The Food Lab is really good.

by NoraTC   2019-11-17

Here is a nice backgrounder on the sciency side of the chemical effects - and it should be a basic part of your understanding of salt effects. The Food Lab's chapter on the science of ground meat opened a whole new avenue of cooking fun for me, just by understanding why when you add how much salt to ground meat yields totally different products. You can generally access the basic ideas by googling "food lab", including the ground meat product you want to make as a google term, if you do not have access to the book. I commend buying it, because it is the kind of reference work that cries out for annotating and browsing.

...and now for a much less technical reasons: (1) salt lightly early on, because you may want to concentrate stuff down and (2) if there is some salt there, you can easily say, "that is under salted but what else does it need?" - with no salt on board the lack of salt is all you will notice.

Balance out final heat, acid, umami, finishing herb stuff, all of which can affect final salt preference, then correct the salt if needed.

by ADarkAndScaryRide   2019-07-21

I'm surprised no one has mentioned The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt or the site Serious Eats (sub /r/seriousseats)

by Crucinyx   2019-07-21

To add onto this, make what you like, as OP said. Build on it and don't be afraid to try anything new to add ingredients that you enjoy!

Watching some shows can help give you ideas too, I particularly liked salt fat acid heat, Netflix series based off the book. Wonderful insight into the importance of the corner stones of cooking.

Also food blogs can be a good resource, when I started out I jumped between a few of them looking for recipes. I found 2-3 of them and cycled them into a rotation. I highly suggest this recipe for spaghetti to start out with.

An example with what I said earlier for trying new things, I subbed out the veal / pork for 1lb of Italian sausage. It's one of my more favourite meals now.

Finally, I don't know if it's been recommended, but The food lab is a great book. It explains so much and the science of cooking. If you can't pick it up online, it's worth looking at a library to see if they'd have one.

Hope some of this helps and you have a great time cooking!

by kristephe   2019-07-21

If you like reading, a couple books that I'd recommend would be The Food Lab and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. They'll help you understand a lot more about the tools and ingredients you want to use and learn how to use them. There's plenty of recipes too! These are both award winning books that I think should be in your local library too if you don't have the money to buy them! Happy cooking!

The meal prep subreddit might give you ideas too on big batch meals.

Do you think your dad might help you cook or help you learn? It could be a cool thing to do together and maybe you could help him learn somethings and give him some autonomy!

by uid_0   2019-07-21

Go visit https://www.seriouseats.com.

Also, get yourself a copy of The Food Lab.

He uses the science to explain why recipes work. If you like to cook, it's almost mandatory reading.

by meteorknife   2019-07-21

https://www.amazon.com/Food-Lab-Cooking-Through-Science/dp/0393081087

This is the link for the book. I would recommend it too. My biggest problem was that I knew how to make a handful of recipes, but I really didnt understand what was happening when I mixed things in a certain order or why/how the different variations of a dish exist (poached eggs vs over easy). This book fully explains their recipes and why its being cooked that way.

I would highly recommend it if you have an analytical mindset and trying to learn processes and rules of cooking.

by kaidomac   2019-07-21

part 2/2

Second, there are ways to take a more cost-effective approach. I always bring up the physics example of the apple falling on Newton's head, which made him realize gravity existed, and then he dedicated his whole life to figuring out the formula for gravity; then you saunter up to science class one day, learn F=ma, and that's that! Likewise, a lot of smart & persistent people have worked hard to create formulas for food, called recipes, which you can try & learn & get good results at simply by following their step-by-step checklist.

Part of getting good at cooking is learning the underlying tools, technique, and knowledge required for flavor combinations, food pairings, spice mixes, cooking methods, etc., but part of it is also just burning through a bunch of recipes & getting exposure to good results & to various processes, without having to master every single one right off the bat & then think up new ways to use them. So in addition to learning how to cook in general, I'd also recommend simply following a bunch of recipes initially, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, which can help you get better results initially, simply because you have proven instructions to follow! There are a million great resources for doing this; I'll share just a few here:

  • Website: Serious Eats: Most recipes are split into a detailed explanation & then a separate page for the recipe itself. Excellent learning resource!
  • Book: The Food Lab: By Kenji of the Serious Eats website. This is a really excellent book to learn cooking step-by-step, complete with full-color pictures & detailed explanations.
  • Website: ChefSteps: An excellent resource for detailed recipes from the company that makes the Joule sous-vide machine (note that not all recipes are sous-vide!)
  • Show: Good Eats with Alton Brown (on TV or available to purchase online); lots of detailed walkthroughs & tribal knowledge shared in each episode.
  • Book: Modern Sauces: 150 sauces, plus great explanations to build up your knowledge about sauces. One thing I've realized over time is that most restaurants create amazing flavor through their sauces, whether it's something as basic as Big Mac sauce at McDonald's or a super fancy steak sauce at an elegant, high-end restaurant.
  • Show: "Wok Star" by Eleanor Ho: She teaches a fantastic, recipe-free workflow for creating stir-fry dishes using a wok & a hi-heat portable burner. Note that you can buy the discs (which are just simple recordings of her classes) & printed materials separately from the wok & burner if you already have the tools. She's put together a really great system for teaching wok cooking, so if you're interested in learning the "flowchart" for quick & healthy meals using the stir-fry method, this is the best resource I've ever come across!

Third, it helps to have some good introductions to the different aspects of food. Here's a few links to read to help kick-start your education process:

  • Basic cooking advice & approach
  • How to cook a chicken breast so it's good every time
  • A quick discussion about "master" recipes
  • Introduction to spices
  • How our bodies works in relation to food & a bit more on food & exercise
  • A quick introduction to complete foods
  • My approach to meal prep & a bit more information on the Look Book
  • Some tips for getting organized in your kitchen (kitchen part specifically is a few posts down)

Anyway, learning how to cook can definitely be discouraging & can absolutely be a money-drain, because you're going to have to make a lot of mistakes, due to the learning process, and make also a lot of just plain mediocre food before you start hitting some home-runs. I'd recommend making sure that you have a recipe storage system for capturing the recipes & workflows you really like.

I'd also recommend adopting the "growth" mindset when it comes to cooking, because it's easy to quit in the face of setbacks & label yourself as a terrible cook or view cooking at home as hard or dumb or whatever. If you look at cooking from a big-picture perspective, you're going to be alive until you die, and you've gotta eat every day, so imo at least, it's totally worth learning how to cook so that you can save money & enhance the enjoyability of each meal that you cook while you can!

I think part of that is just accepting that it's going to take some time & practice (and money) as you grow & develop your skills, your personal recipe database, and the various workflows available for things like making breads or grilling or stir-frying or whatever you want to dive into. Probably the best way to save money, at this point in your cooking education, is to find & follow top-rated recipes. Pinterest has a pretty good algorithm for bubbling up really good recipes, so if you type in "chocolate-chip cookie" into the Pinterest search & try a recipe (exactly as printed, step-by-step) on the first page of results, then you're likely to get much better results than just winging it...while also building up your cooking skills in the process & getting that background knowledge & hands-on time required to get better at cooking!

by sushi_life   2019-07-21

Im the same way! I love to cook but the science of simple things within cooking interests me greatly. I highly reccomend 3 books to pick up or order as soon as possible. First get Food Lab, Kenji is amazing at detailing info about why we do things when we cook. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0393081087/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_QOaFCbDZZ5CEE

Second is Salt Fat Acid Heat, it breaks down fundementals in a fun way.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1476753830/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_BPaFCbBGC3G41

Now if you want to splurge a little and get one of the most beautiful food books I've ever owned, check out Modern Cuisinest @ home, this one is more pricy however worth it. (On sale right now!) https://www.amazon.com/dp/0982761015/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_HQaFCb4JFEQS6

Hopes this helps you get started in the right direction!

by catonakeyboard   2019-07-21

> I dunno who this dude is but apparently he can’t cook a burger worth shit. He shouldn’t have this website

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt literally wrote the book on applying science to home cooking.

by wincy   2019-07-12
These two books have nothing but good recipes. The Food Lab also explains why to cook something a certain way. My food is so much better after buying these two books.

https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Americas-Test-Kitchen-Cookbo...

https://www.amazon.com/Food-Lab-Cooking-Through-Science/dp/0...

by chris_anna   2018-11-10

The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt has been a great find for me and venturing toward the deep end of cooking. He definitely doesn't try to make his recipes overly simple, but they're written well and are a snap to follow. The book is about 1,000 pages long and definitely rewards cover-to-cover reading, but my preferred way to approach it is to think of a food or class of food that I want to make (like "hamburgers" or "salad dressing") and then find it in the index. If it's in the book, it will definitely be a very good version of the recipe.

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Reading the non-recipe sections also did a lot to help me understand what goes on during various cooking processes and has helped me step away from strictly following recipes. I still generally follow Kenji's recipes to the letter but I can adjust something from, e.g., AllRecipes to suit my tastes without compromising the end result.

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Amazon: [https://toptalkedbooks.com/amzn/0393081087)

by soopuoos   2018-11-10

Try 'The Food Lab' by Kenji Lopez Alt. He details a lot of the science behind cooking methods and includes experiments he's done to compare them https://toptalkedbooks.com/amzn/0393081087

by carbonxe   2018-11-10

I follow The Food Lab.

https://toptalkedbooks.com/amzn/0393081087